This woolly bear predicted a cold snowy winter for 2015/16. So did Farmers Almanac. We had cold weather because this is Maine and you know…winter. We had little snow though, never enough at once to snowshoe in the woods and deep enough for the snowmobiles only one weekend. About half the normal 100 inches of snow fell. There were a few days below 0° but there were more days in the 40°s and 50°s than 0°.
Oh Woolly Bear! How did he get it so wrong?
Genetics and environment determine the woolly bear’s looks. The better its diet and longer it’s been eating the narrower its orange band will be. Woolly bear tells us about its diet and genetics, not the weather. The one in the photo must have been eating well. I can related to that. The more I eat the wider my middle gets.
Does Nature Predict Winter?
I love folk lore. The ground hog? I’m amused by grown men (who might be drinking heavily because why else would they do this) who pull a ground hog out of a box, shine lights in its sleepy eyes, and expect it to see or not see its shadow. Six more weeks of winter? Boooo. Same six weeks until spring? Yeah!
Are the wasp and hornet nests high or low? Find them and you’ll know how much snow we’ll have.
Are the geese heading south early? (Or have you, like I tend to do, forgotten when it is they usually leave?)
Look at the pigs. Are they gathering sticks? Heavy winter if they are, or they like to play with sticks.
Lots of pine and spruce cones in the tops of the trees tell us there’s going to be a harsh winter…or mild winter. Two winters ago the trees were loaded and winter was horrible. Last year the trees were loaded and winter was mild. Flip a cone. Or a cone.
Nature reliably predicts winter…except when it doesn’t. It’s still fun.
Two or three mornings a week I take a walk to the food plot and into the woods to check the game cameras. We seldom set eyes on the animals we share our land with but get to see them in pictures the cameras provide us. We’re looking for bucks now because archery season is open and rifle season opens in a few weeks, but there aren’t any. This week the “yahoos” sauntered through – a skunk I knew was around thanks to its “aroma,” a raccoon that pushed its luck by going to the hen house, and a porcupine that left its usual trail through apple trees to cross the food plot. This morning ritual of an autumn walk in the woods is time spent taking in the beauty, studying tracks and signs, and recharging my soul.
The first stop is the beaver bog but that’s a blog of its own for tomorrow.
Waiting for Moose
The best part of the autumn walk in the woods happened with this view. (Follow the edge of the woods and veer left to get to the beaver bog.)
I heard a bull moose grunting as I crossed the food plot so I sat on a stump at the edge of the woods and waited. Scuffling through dry leaves told me he was getting closer, and then the snapping of dead saplings pushed aside during the food plot construction gave his precise location away. I knew exactly where he was and where he’d enter the food plot, further back than I hoped, but any second now… Darn it. He walked around the food plot instead of through it so I didn’t get to see him. I wonder if it was this bull moose or another.
Leaving the food plot and walking toward the wood yard, the maple leaves are falling fast.
After checking the last camera, one that’s out there more to see who is in the wood yard more than what is there, I cut through the woods on this trail to the pond.
There’s never enough time to spend outdoors but a 20 minute autumn walk through the woods is a good way to spend my morning coffee break. What’s happening your yard this season?
Campfire cooking has the same effect as having someone else cook a meal for me – it tastes better! The combination of cast iron, wood smoke in the air, and the great outdoors naturally go together.
Everyone can learn to cook on a campfire. This is a workshop I teach with kids. Start simple and add new dishes as you get comfortable. It’s easiest to start with wet meals that are difficult to burn. Soup is one of my favorite campfire cooking meals for beginners, and a roast chicken dinner is easy and hardy. Put a whole chicken in a Dutch oven, add potatoes and some carrots, a little water and bouillon, and then put it on to roast. It takes about an hour for the oven to heat up and the meal to cook. Remove from heat, ladle out broth for the gravy, and viola! It’s a one-dish meal.
Hints and tips for campfire cooking
Campfire cooking my way relies on coals rather than flames. You’ll need to build your fire about an hour before you plan to start cooking. Use small pieces of hardwood to get the fire going and medium sized pieces (5″ x 18″) to keep the coals going. Clear the space of all debris that will burn and build your fire on solid ground.
Think of coals in terms of charcoal briquettes in size and volume. That will help you figure out how many coals you need to place on top of and under your Dutch oven. If you’re cooking on a grill this won’t matter much. If your heat is too high you move coals out, not high enough you push more under the grill.
Wait! I can’t have a fire in my yard!
You can duplicate the oven temperature called for in recipes by using the proper number of charcoal briquettes on top of and beneath your Dutch oven. This works well on a gravel driveway.
Each briquette adds 15° to 25° of heat.
If the breeze is blowing you’ll need a few extra briquettes.
When strong sunshine hits a Dutch oven for more than a few minutes you’ll need less heat from the coals.
It’s better to cook with lower heat for a longer time than to use too much heat and burn your food.
This chart gives you the number of briquettes needed on top and under the Dutch oven to hold the temperature for approximately an hour. Have hot briquettes ready to add at the right time if necessary, or add self-igniting briquettes to the hot briquettes at the 45 minute mark.
Temperature & Method Chart for Dutch Ovens
For roasting, use half on bottom, half on top.
When stewing, use one-quarter on bottom, three-quarters on top.
For boiling, all heat on bottom.
8” Dutch oven
350* – 10 on top, 6 on bottom
375* – 11 on top, 6 on bottom
400* – 12 on top, 6 on bottom
450* – 14 on top, 6 on bottom
10″ DUTCH OVEN:
350* – 14 on top, 7 on bottom
375* – 16 on top, 7 on bottom
400* – 17 on top, 8 on bottom
450* – 19 on top, 10 on bottom
12″ DUTCH OVEN:
350* – 17 on top, 8 on bottom
375* – 18 on top, 9 on bottom
400* – 19 on top, 10 on bottom
450* – 22 on top, 11 on bottom
Moist meals are usually the easiest for beginners. Before you bake bread in your Dutch oven, try a soup, stew or chili.
Hot coals are easier to cook over than an open flame. Trust yourself.
Choose Dutch ovens with legs. They’re stackable. Legs allow air flow below the oven so that the coals don’t suffocate.
When cooking over an open flame, use a grate supported on rocks or bricks, or a tripod. The tripod allows the pot to hang over the flames.
Unless you’re searing or sauteing, start with a cold pan or oven. Food is less likely to stick and will warm evenly.
Get used to cooking with one oven, and then add another.
If necessary, move your ovens around half way through. I add two or three extra briquettes or coals to the top of an oven before adding the next oven.
When stacking, put the meal that needs the least heat on the top. Desserts are usually fine cooking longer at lower heat. Use your center oven for roasts. Place soups and stews that can take extra heat without burning on bottom.
For messy meals like sticky desserts or breads that might not lift out well, line the oven with foil. Use one large sheet of foil so that liquids don’t get lost between the foil and cast iron.
Flip a Dutch oven lid to turn it into a skillet.
SAFETY: If the wind is blowing enough to blow a spark, get out the Coleman stove.
Campfire Cooking Recipes
Easy Fruit Cake
2 cans of sliced fruit with juice
1 cake mix, your choice of flavors
To ease cleanup, line the Dutch oven with foil.
Pour both cans of fruit and all of the juice into a cold 10” to 12” Dutch oven. Evenly spread the dry cake mix over the fruit and then smooth out, pushing a little more cake mix to the edges than the middle for even cooking.
Place the lid on the oven, the oven on the coals, more coals on top, and then bake for 30-45 minutes.
Vegetable, Beef & Barley Soup
Choose and prepare your vegetables. Solid vegetables such as carrots should be cut into bite sized pieces to ensure even cooking.
Brown beef in a hot Dutch oven. Drain the fat. Be sure to put the fat in a safe place to avoid attracting bears and other wildlife, and avoid putting it in the fire. If you’re using lean meat like venison or moose, there’s no need to brown first.
Mix ingredients the same as when you’re cooking on the stove at home. Preparation is the same; the cooking method is the only difference.
It was hot Wednesday, 88° when Steve got home at 5:30 pm. He called on his way home. “What’s for supper?” He suggested something simple like sandwiches because we were going fishing. Tuna sandwiches and drinks were in the cooler, the cooler in the boat, the boat trailer on the truck, and we were ready to pull out when bad news arrived via Steve’s phone. He made a few phones call and then became quiet. Fishing isn’t only about fish sometimes.
I was away last week so Steve had to do all of my homestead work on top of his own work here and at the office. We worked through the weekend and at night after supper, and it’s been an aggravating week. Some down time together was due. It was time for a break and all things considered, sometimes fishing isn’t only about fish.
East Musquash Lake
East Musquash isn’t the nearest lake but it’s the easiest to get to from here. Thirty minutes after leaving the house we putted across the lake to the far side, and there we sat, quietly for a while. “I guess if I’m going to fish I should get moving,” I said. “I don’t care if I fish tonight,” he said. We did fish. Steve caught smallmouth bass, yellow perch, chain pickerel and a big fat chub. I caught two bass and stick. A nice stick but still, a stick. We stopped to watch a beaver coming toward us. With the trolling motor silent and being far enough away from the road, we could hear everything.
Did you hear that?
“Did you hear that? Sticks are snapping in the woods over there.” I watched the shore, hoping to see an animal come out for a drink. I didn’t think to grab the camera. It was quiet a few minutes before more sticks snapped further away. A few more minutes passed before we got to see what was happening. Something ran out of the woods and into the water so hard and fast the water splashed over its back, above its head and so wide beyond its sides that I thought a moose calf was in the water. Squinting didn’t help me see through the water that sprayed for 100 feet as the animal ran. It wasn’t until it stopped running that we could see it clearly.
“A deer. A doe.” She stood in water up to her belly. I remembered the camera but it was too late. By the time I changed lenses and aimed she was gone. I might have gotten one shot if the camera were a split second faster on the focus.
We put our rods down and floated. No breeze but no mosquitoes. Laughter from a camp across the lake reached us, and an occasional chip or log truck passed by so far away they looked like toys. Chip trucks…the bad news was about a truck driver Steve knows well who rolled his chip truck into the woods.
The beaver came closer, almost to the boat before turning around to swim away. We watched the ripples start at his head and fan out behind him as he moved. He disappeared and we started trolling again, catch and release, catch and release, catch and release. We didn’t keep any fishing last night. The beaver reappeared as we were trolling, moving slightly slower than the boat. We eventually caught up, getting close enough to annoy it. It slapped the water with its tail. Nope, no camera in hand. I wasn’t thinking enough about photography last night to get the best photos.
We watched the sunset. It wasn’t spectacular. The sky wasn’t full of brilliant colors. It was peaceful and relaxing, exactly what we needed. We fished but sometimes fishing isn’t only about fish, or about fish at all.
(We are waiting on updated news about the friend.)
Where do homesteaders vacation? We’re surrounded by lakes, ponds and streams that provide plenty of fishing and paddling. We live in Maine, Vacationland. Going somewhere means losing our peace and quiet and privacy because few places are as secluded as our house. We talked about going to fish one of the Great Lakes in New York but didn’t want to spend that kind of money with me being 99% unemployed. We chose Fish River Lodge in Eagle Lake, a three hour and 15 minute drive from home. We took the boat and Ava and Zoey. My uncle tended the homestead for a couple of days, and Taylor came home for the weekend.
This is the first time we’ve taken our high needs dogs anywhere other than to camp, and I don’t think Zoey’s even been to camp yet. Ava’s seizures are triggered by stress, and Zoey has issues being away from home after being in five places with strangers in three months last year. They’ve never been in a boat and Zoey hated water. The first time I splashed a tiny bit of water from the pond on her she acted like I’d drenched her in acid. We knew this was going to be a challenge. And then there are dogs, which Ava is afraid of, and strangers, disliked by both. Yeah for taking dogs on vacay, right? homesteaders vacation
Fish River Lodge
Ava and Zoey immediately liked Tenley, manager at Fish River Lodge. A quick sniff sniff from A and Z, and they were friends. They did just as well with Tenley’s three dogs, and Zoey struck up a friendship with Tinkerbell. When A and Z were inside Tinkerbell came to the door and woofed to be let in. Huge milestones. Ava tossed her tennis ball to Gracie and they had a great time playing indoors and out. When we let Zoey off the leash she had a short romp with Tinkerbell and came right back. Progress. homesteaders vacation
We went to Soldier Pond on Friday morning. I thought we were going to a pond named Soldier. We went to a town named Soldier Pond and fished in the Fish River. Fish River Lodge is in and on Eagle Lake. Huh? Steve asked if I looked at a map when we made these plans. <blink blink> Map? nooo. He caught fish in Fish River and I caught a couple of alders. The local warden stopped to chat. I thought for sure I’d be asked for my fishing license for the first time ever. He didn’t. He did give us some tips on flies, where to go in the river, and agreed I was in the best spot for me because “it’s wide open.” See the alder comment above…he was right.
We fished in Eagle Lake Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. The warden checked boats, keeping 20feet between his boat and others until he came to us. He pulled up beside me and we grabbed each others boats for stability. I was ready to whip out my license but again, he didn’t ask. He sent us to Mad Rock to find salmon, but we didn’t. Without down riggers we couldn’t get down to the salmon showing up on the fish finder 20 feet and more below the surface.
Ava LOVES to swim. LOVES it. And now Zoey doesn’t hate the water, but she’s not in love yet. She does go in over her belly! Not far enough to get the stick. Ava retrieved it for her. The Labrador Retriever x Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever doesn’t retrieve in water deeper than her belly…yet.
The weather didn’t cooperate with our plans to fish all weekend. It rained all three days of the long weekend but started to clear early Monday afternoon. “Take a ride and look for turkeys,” Steve asked? Ehh…I wasn’t really interested since the turkeys are hard to come by. Driving around looking for something we’d probably not see wasn’t appealing but I did like, and always do like the idea of going for a ride. Shotgun in hand, we left for the afternoon. We did see one turkey, a hen without poults, while riding backwoods gravel roads, but only that one.
I’m paying better attention to back roads and landmarks than I used to. If I’m not driving I don’t need to know where I’m going, right? That changed when we got the new truck. I can go just about anywhere now. I learned how to get from the Wesley town line on Rt 9 to Princeton yesterday. We followed the Clifford Lake Road to Possum Lake. It’s beautiful. I’d like to go back with the kayaks. The bank was steep, too steep to even walk down, but there must be some place to get close to the shore. A painted turtle was on a walk about, probably looking for a place to lay eggs. Do you know how I know it’s a female? (answer below)
A short drive later we reached Silver Pug Lake. Campers spent the weekend there and left some trash, which we picked up. Landowner respect, folks. If you can drive in with stuff you can drive out with what’s left. Anyway! It’s another pretty little lake I’d like to explore and fish. We did look for turkeys along the way. On the dam at the outlet of Clifford Lake I found a little bit of wildlife I wasn’t expecting. This is a milk snake. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen. I was fascinated. After deciding about 10 years ago that my fear of snakes was based on…nothing…I’ve gotten over it. They still startle me at times but I’m not afraid of them. There are no poisonous snakes in Maine. A big snake is three feet long. (Pause here while the folks with truly big snakes chuckle.) riding backwoods gravel roads
“Whoaaaa…”I watched the milk snake. Not much surprises me driving backwoods gravel roads but this snake on the dam surprised me. Not surprised as in startled but as in “hey, there’s a snake on the dam!”
This is the dam at the outlet of Clifford Lake. The milk snake was sunbathing on the center part of the dam. It rested on the wooden frame and rocks, and as the evening air changed, got cooler and damper, the snake moved into the warmth on the rocks. It moved its first two feet in and left its last six inches on the wood, head turned toward me,, watching. I watched a snake watching me. “Nothing to worry about, snake. I won’t bother you.”
I sat on the dam for an hour, fishing, observing the snake, and catching a few small fish. Emphasis on small fish as my “biggest” fish was a five inch pumpkinseed sunfish. I’d had a few nibbles at the worm and waited a little too long to set the hook, hoping a bigger fish was going to be at the other end. I hooked the little pumpkinseed sunfish near the eye. They have a tiny mouth, not one I could slip my thumb into to hold while I hooked the fish. I managed a little bit of my thumb in and rested its tail on my bare foot. It didn’t fight, no struggle, no movement at all. I gave the barbed hook a wiggle. mmm…no…it wasn’t coming out that way easily. “I might need help,” I called to Steve, and then regretted my words instantly. That’s ridiculous. I had a five inch sunfish on the hook, not a barracuda.
What to do…I didn’t want to injure the fish’s eye. I slipped the leader between my front teeth and bit the line. Thank you, sunfish, for not finning me. I slipped the worm off the hook and backed the hook out easily. The little pumpkinhead was back in the water after 45 seconds.
“OO-EEK OO-EEK OO-EEK OO-EEK” A wood duck dipped over the treeline, past the dam and toward the open lake. “OO-EEK OO-EEK OO-EEK.” He was in trouble. A large bird of prey followed close behind. The duck dropped closer to the water and disappeared out of sight. The predator dropped but was empty-taloned when it rose. It disappeared over the treeline, not bothering to make a second attempt at the wood duck.
I clipped a new leader on and to that I added a floating lure. I doubted there was anything that was going to take the lure but I didn’t want to continue to catch little sunfish and yellow perch. I was right, nothing took my bait. I moved to the logs that serve as a trap for large debris that might float in on the current. Painted turtles rested on logs, warming in the late May sun.
There were seven painted turtles that I could see. There are two on this log. I stopped tossing the lure when a turtle tried to catch it. I don’t know how you unhook a painted turtle, and I don’t want to have to learn!
We had a little more riding backwoods gravel roads to do before hitting the pavement. Our big wildlife spot of the day was a black bear not far from Clifford Lake. I never tire of riding around and hope I never will. Oh! The turtle! I almost forgot. I knew the painted turtle is female because I flipped her over to look at her plastron (bottom shell). A male’s plastron is concave so that he can rest on top of the female’s shell during mating. This turtle’s plastron is flat.
This hasn’t been the greatest week ever but it hasn’t been terrible either. I had oral surgery on Tuesday, something I’ve put off too long, am glad is over, and wish I hadn’t done. I’m glad I did but gees this is a pain literally and figuratively. I’ve been indoors most of the week but did manage to get out n about a little.
I did a lot of cooking this week. Fiddleheads are up, radishes are being picked almost daily so I’ve been making roasted radishes, and we caught brook trout that I used for an article I’m writing for 1800Gear. All this cooking while I’m on a soft food diet because of the missing tooth.
Last weekend we went fishing for supper. It was a beautiful day to be on the water. This is Steve’s fly line. I watched him quite a bit to learn more about how to cast properly.
I love old cars and Maine seems to have a lot of old, abandoned cars, usually in the woods. You can see where the trees grew up and around this car. I bet it really was something in its day, it’s a big car. We saw this while out ‘n about looking for turkeys.
I think I’ve found a spot to duck hunt. I’m excited about this possibility. I love duck and don’t raise as many as we would eat if we had more. I need a few decoys, a call, and I think I’m all set. Without a retrieving dog I’ll need to get them myself so I’ll take the kayak.
The trillium are blooming now. I could find pink and red but no white this year. That’s unusual. The red is deeper and darker than usual.
And oh happy day, I discovered plum blossoms yesterday. We haven’t yet had plums on the trees. This is the largest of three trees and the only one with open blossoms so far. I’m hoping they pollinate each other enough to have at least a few plums. My nose took me to the orchard. The rich, sweet smell drifted on the breeze and caught my attention. This tree has suckers that need to be pruned so I’ll do that today and try to root them to share with my sisters.
Next week I’ll be sharing the garden. The worst of the cold seems to be over. I’ll be planting, digging up to relocate, and starting more seeds. To join us in Five on Friday click the link below and share what you did while you were out n about.
Spring Scenery – It’s getting greener a little at a time
I’m joining in on Five On Friday with a week of spring scenery. I’m chosen five highlights or activities of my week. If you’d like to join in you can find the information at the Five on Friday link.
We’ve had beautiful weather, okay weather, and cold, wet, damp, uncomfortable weather this week. I started my week at a writing retreat in Grand Lake Stream. Sunrises were stunning. It was cold enough on morning to wake to frozen pipes. The sun rose, air warmed, and before our first workshop the water started to trickle. I got in a few minutes of fly fishing one morning when the fish started to rise before the first workshop began. There’s a little more green in the scenery after this week’s rain.
Steve and I have been to Grand Lake Stream to check out the water flow and watch the anglers fly fishing. And we’ve done a lot of turkey hunting this week. The elderberry buds are forming. The spring scenery is coming along. A few more warm, sunny days will do it wonders.
Turkey hunting hasn’t been good yet. We have three full weeks to go. I’m day dreaming of four big toms, we can each take two, to help fill the freezer but we’ve barely seen turkeys. Every bird we’ve seen has been at a distance. I walked a half mile down a pipeline to get to a tom that disappeared before I got close enough. That’s a story of its own. We’ve seen a bear, a lot of deer, the few turkeys, more snowshoe hares than we’ve had in a few years, and lots of vistas. Standing at the top of one ridge while looking down at lakes, ponds and streams and back up again to mountains and more ridges is scenery I can’t adequately describe. It’s worth getting up at 3 am to see.
Tara is guest blogging today with Tips for Hiking with Kids. Getting kids outdoors is near and dear to my heart. It’s important to put down the gadgets and get outdoors. Tara’s tips for hiking with kids are fantastic! And so is Tara’s blog so please to be sure to check it out. There’s a link in her bio.
In today’s plugged-in world, raising outdoor kids takes some extra effort, but I promise you — it’s more than worth it. Not only will your kids learn to appreciate and respect the natural world, they’ll also exercise their bodies and minds, soak up fresh air and sunshine, and enjoy valuable family time.
Need more proof that the outdoors is awesome for kids?
According to a recentstudy, being outside improves distance vision and reduces your kids’ chances of being nearsighted as an adult.
Exposure to nature and the outdoors may reduce ADHD symptoms in children.
Hiking has always been one of our favorite activities to do outdoors with our kids. We carried them in backpacks when they were small, but it wasn’t long before they wanted to walk themselves – there’s just so much to discover out there. Here are some tips for keeping your smallest hikers happy and healthy on the trail.
Make it Age Appropriate
Start with short hikes. The last thing you want are kids that never want to hike because they’re tired. Short excursions will keep them looking forward to the next adventure. As they mature, both physically and mentally, they’ll want to challenge themselves on longer hikes.
Follow your kids’ lead. The woods are full of wonder and magic. As an adult, you may have forgotten this, but your kids are just discovering those mystical qualities. You may be itching to get that vista or swimming hole, but don’t forget to meander. Let your kids set the pace, and you’ll be sure to find some of that childhood magic for yourself.
Hike in the morning. Morning is a great time to get out exploring. The world is fresh and so are the kids. The hours between breakfast and lunch are a golden time for hiking, and as an added bonus, the house will stay clean.
Make it Fun
Choose hikes with kid appeal. Again you know what will appeal to your kids – mine were suckers for water features, big rocks for scrambling, deep dark forests. They weren’t a bit interested in far-reaching vistas.
Bring a friend. I find that hiking with friends is a great incentive to get out there. Not just for the kids, but for me as well.
Have a picnic. Food has always been a huge incentive for my kids. On longer hikes, we tried to plan for a relaxing picnic with some playtime, and maybe even a read-aloud. It provided all of us with fuel, rest, and imaginations before the walk back to the car or house.
Try letterboxing or geocaching. Who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? Thank you to whoever invented these super-fun activities for outdoor adventurers. If you haven’t tried them, you’re in for a treat.
Preparation is key when hiking with kids. Heck, preparation is key when raising kids! Pack a daypack for yourself, and let kids carry their own if you think they’re ready. Here’s what you should have for every hike:
Great for finding each other if someone gets lost. Three short whistles is a universal emergency call. Teach your kids never to use this unless they’re in trouble.
Everyone should have a bottle of water for day hikes.
Great fuel and a good reward for tired kids.
Extra clothes. An extra layer for every person.
Small First aid kit. Because you just never know.
Cell phone. Because you can.
Whether your kids are four or fourteen, now is the time to step out of your door (and your comfort zone) to embark on journeys big and small. Leave the dishes, the homework, and the internet, and explore this amazing world we call home.
“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way” – Dr. Seuss
About the author:
Tara is a freelance writer, outdoor adventurer, and obsessive road-tripper, living the good life in a little blue house in Vermont. When not exploring America with her husband and teenage sons, you can find her in the garden or playing in the snow (depending on the season). She blogs about family adventure travel at BackRoadRamblers and tries really hard to keep up with her Instagram and Twitter accounts.